The term "Green Chemistry", as adopted by the IUPAC Working Party 'Synthetic Pathways and Processes on Green Chemistry', is defined as:
"the invention, design and application of chemical products and processes to reduce or to eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances."
NOTE: The term Green Chemistry will be adopted throughout this web portal since it has been recognized by IUPAC. The different (and valid) terms adopted by other organizations to define green chemistry are discussed herein.
Only in recent years has chemistry been acknowledged as the fundamental science required to address the
problems facing the environment. The emerging discipline of Green Chemistry has been recognized as a fundamental tool for design and attainment of sustainable development. Through the use of multi-disciplinary scientific know-how, such a discipline produces benefits in all areas concerning sustainable development: environment, economy and society. This strategic action has been labelled as the “triple bottom line” philosophy, which means that a productive activity can only be economically sustainable if environment protection, social benefits and market advantage are simultaneously achieved. This is the strategic challenge for the future of the chemical industry, with its development being closely linked to the needs of people and the environment coupled with new ideas in fundamental research.
On one hand, it should be easy to foresee that the success of environmentally-friendly reactions, products and processes will improve the competitiveness of the chemical industry. If companies are able to meet the needs of market and society, politics will somehow foster environment-caring industries (responsible care). In this virtuous circle, fundamental research will have a central role. As a matter of fact, what we identify as green chemistry may embody some of the most advanced prospects and opportunities in chemical sciences.
Green chemistry is a recent discipline, or in a broader sense, it is a new way of approaching chemistry according to issues of sustainability. It is applied using well-defined principles by integrating know-how from many disciplines, namely, chemistry, biology and engineering. The main stages of its conception are summarized:
History of it’s inception
• At the beginning of the 1990s in the United States, interest in green chemistry began with the passage of the Pollution Prevention Act, the first environmental law to focus on preventing pollution at the source as opposed to dealing with remediation or the capture of pollutants. This subsequently led the US EPA to establish its Green Chemistry Program in 1991, within the Office of Pollution, Prevention & Toxics. It was during this period in which the term “Green Chemistry” was first coined and defined by Dr Paul T. Anastas, formerly of the EPA and now Director of the Green Chemistry Institute. The EPAs Green Chemistry Program continues to support fundamental research in the area of environmentally benign chemistry as well as a variety of educational activities, international activities, conferences and meetings, and tool development, all through voluntary partnerships with academia, industry, other government agencies, and non-government organizations. One of the most widely recognized initiatives of the EPA is the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards, established in 1995 with the aim of providing visibility and recognition to companies and academic researchers with outstanding achievements in green chemistry.
• In 1993 the Interuniversity National Consortium "Chemistry for the Environment" (INCA Consortium; Italy) was established by 5 founder member universities. INCA’s ongoing mission is to gather, coordinate, and integrate the research activities of its member academic groups. One of INCA’s focus areas is pollution prevention through research for cleaner reactions, products and processes. INCA organized its first meeting in Venice “ Processi Chimici Innovativi e Tutela dell’Ambiente”, in February, 1993.
• In August 1996, IUPAC approved the foundation of a Working Party on Green Chemistry within the Commission 111.2 of IUPAC Division III. The aim of this Subcommittee is to develop actions devoted to the cause of green chemistry and for its wider benefit towards the future of chemistry and society as whole. The First International Green Chemistry Conference in Venice was held in September 1997, under IUPAC sponsorship.
• Also in 1996, the Green Chemistry Institute (GCI), a non-profit organization was established, with the mission to promote green chemistry by facilitating industry-government partnerships with universities and national laboratories to develop economically sustainable clean-production technologies. In 2001, the GCI formed an alliance with the American Chemical Society, in order to increase ACS's role in addressing the theme of chemistry and the environment. Activities of the GCI include support for research, education and information dissemination.
• In 1998 upon EPA proposal, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) instituted a Directive Committee for the development of sustainable chemistry which established a Programme called “Sustainable Chemistry” aimed at pollution prevention and better industrial performance. USA and Japan were appointed co-leaders in the field of research and development while Italy was appointed leader of the Educational Act. In particular INCA was chosen as the coordinator of the Educational Acts on Green Chemistry for OECD.
• The European Commission recognized sustainability as a priority area in fundamental research; the principles and goals of green chemistry were included in the 4th, 5th and 6th Framework Programmes and will further be included in the upcoming 7th.
• In July 2001, IUPAC approved the establishment of the Interdivisional sub-Committee on Green Chemistry. The committee’s primary focus is to establish and carry out educational green chemistry programs. Since its conception the subcommittee has actively organized international workshops, symposia and conferences in addition to the preparation and dissemination of numerous books (Green Chemistry Series) on global topics related to green/sustainable chemistry specifically aimed at university students.
• In December 2005, the Mediterranean Green Chemistry Network (MEGREC) was established to facilitate collaborations for research and educational activities between the European and Arab countries of the Mediterranean region. One of the planned principal actions of MEGREC is the creation of a university Master course in Green Chemistry.
• Also in 2005, the Carnegie Group (the biannual meeting of the G8 Ministers for Research ) held in Victoria, Canada (June 2-3, 2005) and in New York (December 2-3, 2005) , founded a research and training network on Green/Sustainable Chemistry; The International Green Network (IGN). The focus of the IGN is to provide coordination and sponsorship for scientific collaborations, training for the new generation of chemists, and support for sustainable use of chemistry in developing nations. Furthermore it will assist industrial production in G8 nations, fostering the development of novel competitive technologies, and address issues such as climate change, energy, and other environmental concerns from a chemical standpoint.
Since its initial introduction in the early 1990s, green chemistry has spread throughout the chemical enterprise internationally. There has been wide recognition that green chemistry influences all of the various sub-disciplines of chemistry and encompasses the interests and goals of industry, academia and government.
Currently, around the world there are conferences, research funding programs, national awards, recognition and educational programs devoted to green chemistry. Institutions such as INCA, the Green Chemistry Institute (which has Chapters in over 20 countries), the Green Chemistry Network located in the UK, and the Japanese Green and Sustainable Chemistry Network are working to coordinate and disseminate green chemistry information around the globe. In recent years, a number of research institutes and centres have additionally been established in the U.S., Italy, China, Japan, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, U.K., Germany, Spain and Taiwan. The chemical literature on green chemistry has been expanding throughout books, journals and direct internet publishing. The primary literature as well as reviews and analyses are constantly expanding, with the scope of opportunities in green chemistry for industrial applications and scientific research being recognized globally.
Many initiatives are currently being carried out worldwide:
• IUPAC has established a Working Party on “Synthetic Pathways and Processes in Green Chemistry” and the Interdivisional sub-Committee on Green Chemistry (General Assembly, Brisbane, 2001).
• The Organization for the Economical Cooperation and Development (OECD) is directing a Project on “Sustainable Chemistry”, aimed at increasing awareness for Sustainable Chemistry in the member countries.
• Other multi-national organizations including the United Nations are now beginning to assess the role that they can play in promoting the implementation of green chemistry to meet environmental and economic goals simultaneously. There are rapidly growing activities in government, industry and academia in the United States, Italy, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Japan, China, India, Australia and many other countries in Europe, Africa and Asia: green chemistry is attaining a worldwide role of fundamental science for sustainable development.
Some of Main NGOs currently involved in Programs in green chemistry at the national or international level, are (see the Organizations page for details):
• The Green Chemistry Institute (USA) which formed an alliance with the American Chemical Society;
• The Royal Society of Chemistry (UK), which promotes the concept of Green Chemistry through a “UK Green Chemistry Network” and the scientific journal “Green Chemistry”;
• The Centre for Green Chemistry at Monash University (Australia);
• The Interuniversity Consortium “La Chimica per l’Ambiente” (Chemistry for the Environment, INCA), which groups 33 Italian Universities interested in environmentally benign chemistry, providing funds and coordination for research groups.
The term “Green Chemistry” and its definition
As briefly mentioned above, adoption of a unique and definitive terminology for this discipline is yet to come. Each of the two widely used terms, "Green Chemistry" and "Sustainable Chemistry", has its own supporters and detractors. "Green" is vividly evocative, but may assume an unintended political connotation, whereas "Sustainable" can be paraphrased as "chemistry for a sustainable environment", which may be perceived as a less focused and incisive description. In the vast majority of countries, the term "Green Chemistry" has been widely adopted due to its clear definition and the positive image associated with it. Nonetheless, nations with active political movements or parties associated with the "green" label, are concerned about the possible perception of inappropriate - though inexistent - links between politics and science.
The IUPAC Working Party on Synthetic Pathways and Processes in Green Chemistry (2000) agreed to adopt the term "Green Chemistry", therefore this term has been retained by the IUPAC Interdivisional Subcommittee with the following definition: “The invention, design, and application of chemical products and processes to reduce or to eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances.”
In a meeting of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD; 1999), the representatives proposed and approved the term "Sustainable Chemistry", and defined it as follows: "Sustainable Chemistry is the design, manufacture and use of efficient, effective, safe and more environmentally benign chemical products and processes."
Other terms have been proposed, such as "Chemistry for the Environment" and others may come in the future, which unfortunately results in confusion. Some countries have adopted dual terminologies such as "Green/Sustainable Chemistry" or "Green and Sustainable Chemistry". Similarly, in 2003 the European Union’s COST Action D29 (COST is the acronym of the 'European Cooperation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research'), adopted the term "Sustainable/Green Chemistry" defined as: "Design of products for sustainable applications, and their production by molecular transformations that are energy efficient, minimise or preferably eliminate the formation of waste and the use of toxic and/or hazardous solvents and reagents and utilize renewable raw materials where possible.”
It needs to be emphasized that Sustainable/Green Chemistry is a discipline which supports and strengthens all the three "pillars" of sustainable development (environment, economy and society). Therefore, all the above definitions are usually accepted, as they all refer to the same concepts and aims.